Looking Back: Services to the CNE

With all the recent talk about Ontario Place, and with Exhibition season almost upon us, I thought this would be a good excuse for photos of streetcar services to the Ex.  Decades ago, the CNE raised much bigger crowds and there was a time it really was a showcase, an “exhibition”.  I remember when the “Better Living Centre” was brand new, and its intent was to give fairgoers a look at all that was new and exciting in household goods.  The Internet didn’t exist yet, and the phenomenon of the shopping mall full of goods manufactured anywhere but here was in its infancy.

The TTC ran many streetcar services into the Ex over the years, and parades of cars would leave the grounds following the evening fireworks.  (Transit Toronto has a short history of the CNE services on its website.)

The photos here have been chosen not just for the fact that cars might be operating on Exhibition routes, but also for interesting details about what is, or is not, still in the city today.

Dundas Exhibition Cars

King Exhibition Cars

Exhibition Loop

33 thoughts on “Looking Back: Services to the CNE

  1. What would really be great would be if you could go to each location and take a picture of what it looks like now. Some pictures at each spot from intervening years would be great, too.

    Steve: I have a lot of other things to do with my time than construct then-and-now galleries. As for the intervening years, you will have to use your imagination. My Tardis is in the shop.


  2. Steve, you made me cry with those memories – the TTC cars when so many were bunched to take us in and out of the CNE … the vehicular cars that all look like dad’s. I so remember that big ‘TO STREET CAR’ sign, dragging one’s tired feet to the grand, open loop after a day full of the wonderful sights and sounds of the old CNE. There was always a car there waiting to take you on your homeward journey.

    Can you tell me what’s the car in the back of the picture ‘looking east on Springhurst at Ft. Rouille, the entrance to Dufferin Loop’? We see the side of it – looks like a bus but I can’t remember them having the same colouration as the streetcars.

    Steve: Yes, it’s an old bus on Dufferin Street. That vintage had more paint than silver flash, and so had a stronger resemblance to the streetcar paint scheme.


  3. Thanks for this. Great to see the photos, and how Toronto has changed. I walk by St. James Cathedral most every day—they sure have cleaned it up!



  4. Great photos. A generation later in my case, mind you, but streetcar rides to the CNE at a young age really started my fascination with transit. I couldn’t tell you which was more thrilling: coming into Exhibition Loop knowing that you’d be spending all day and all night at the fair, or seeing the loop late at night with seemingly all of Toronto’s streetcars lit up, either on standby or boarding to get everyone home.

    The Ex has really lost all of its charm in the intervening years. The poorer quality, and poorer variety, of activities notwithstanding, I have no interest in being herded through the current Exhibition Loop.

    Incidentally, I first saw car 4000 at the Ex in 1988 when the TTC celebrated fifty years of the PCC service in Toronto. I’ve thought that the air-electrics were the best looking PCCs ever since, even if I never got to ride one… Not for lack of trying though, as I’m certain that, after all of these years, the HCRY only brings 4000 onto the tracks for special events (and I don’t blame them)!


  5. If I get inspired to draw from these references shall I just credit you and this page?

    Steve: Yes, with the exception of the photo of Exhibition Loop full of cars on the storage tracks. That one was taken by the late Robert McMann and is credited to him in the text.


  6. Hi Steve:

    You certainly bring back some wonderful memories with this article with the streetcars goin’ to the Ex. You deserve a high five for them. I wasn`t born around the time of the Dundas car to Runnymede, but do remember the trip to Dundas West Station. But looking at the cobble stones between the tracks, they were murder crossing them while riding a bike on the streets of Toronto.

    While looking at the Exhibition East & West Loops, you think a past and present pics would help readers on the changes over time?

    Steve: I don’t have a full enough set of photos over the years to do a now-and-then chronology. There are some early photos of both loops in the City Archives mainly from the 20s.

    Just a curious question, not sure if you can answer it. Many years back during my childhood life, my dad, mom, sister and I would walk over to the Russell Streetcar Yards and get the Exhibition East Car. Why would this car delay the Queen car letting the King Car off Broadview and delaying the King car going down Bathurst and reverse? I could never understand that scheduling procedure.

    Thanks 🙂

    Steve: Which cars delay which is as much a question of operator preference as of TTC scheduling. One early car can hold up a parade.


  7. Here is a youtube link to a nice vid from the 70’s showing activity at the CNE bus terminal down by the Lakeshore. Between these buses and the streetcars transit was the way to go … (when did all these buses stop???. Was Ont Place and their demand for parking the reason?)

    Steve: The TTC’s suburban “Ex” buses were gradually the victim of the growth of the subway system and the long decline of the attractiveness of the CNE as an event. The latter was particularly important for Gray Coach Lines and their interurban services. The CNE simply wasn’t the fair it once was attracting people from all over southern Ontario. Also, the extent of Gray Coach operations gradually withered with the expansion of GO Transit and other carriers.

    As for the parking, the lot the buses used was within the CNE itself behind the old Grandstand and Ontario Place had nothing to do with it.


  8. The south-east end of the current CNE used to be the site of the “New” Fort York, of which only the Stanley Barracks remain.

    The west end of the current CNE was THE CNE for years before it expanded and absorbed the new fort. The Dufferin Gates were the main entrance to the Ex, with only a small entrance in the east end. King Exhibition streetcar service then was only to the Dufferin Gates from east end of the city. With the Bathurst streetcar finally reaching past the “Old” Fort York, they were able to extend service to the east end of the Ex, and allowing for a more elaborate eastern entrance.


  9. Any update on the potential return of 521 Exhibition service this year? I am hoping if they do have a 504 EXHIBITION service that it is routed to Dufferin loop from Broadview.

    Steve: No news on the 521 yet. The TTC is thinking about it, but I have not heard a decision. Given that the schedules are all in place, a 521 service would have to be crewed entirely as extra work and would be quite expensive to operate.


  10. CLRVs and their unromantic “500-series” signs

    De gustibus non est disputandum. But thank you very much for the wonderful gallery.


  11. Thanks for the pictures Steve. But the article also made me think – could part of the issue around transit to the Exhibition grounds and Ontario Place also be demand related? I, amongst others here, can note that the CNE itself has changed over the years and fewer people are attending.

    Steve: The decision not to build an Ontario Place loop dates from the heyday of both sites. Service is certainly less than it once was thanks to dropping demand. The CNE period used to be a special schedule for the TTC, and now the extra service is small enough that it is simply crewed using spare operators and overtime for the two-plus weeks of the event. Any plans to revive Ontario Place and redevelop the southern part of Exhibition Place should look at transit in the context of the “new” uses for the area, not historical patterns of past decades. Of course if the site were somewhere north of the 401, we would build at least one subway to it.


  12. I do not remember how active the Dufferin Gate train station was, from the years before the GO Transit trains. However, I think it was not used very much.

    I do think there is more passengers arriving using the GO Exhibition train station these days than when CN had passenger service to the Dufferin Gates station.

    The steps are still there, but unused.


  13. It was mentioned in an earlier post that Bathurst trams would run skip-stop express service between Bathurst station and the CNE, whilst buses would stop at every local stop. Yesterday, this seems to have reversed, with buses running express and streetcars running local. I’m not sure if the buses were running shuttle without stops in between or not.

    Steve: The streetcars have always run local with the buses providing express service.


  14. Steve:

    Thank you for the great pictures. I remember those days fondly.

    I found the picture of the two Globe and Mail boxes in the King & Spencer picture interesting. On the north side – in front of the IGA – the box was partially white as well as orange. As I remember it, that meant that this box was stocked with the early edition which was available at about 9:00 or 9:30 at night on the day prior to the date of the paper. This edition was printed until I was well into my twenties and I remember buying it and not only enjoying it in the evening, but also comparing it to the one on my doorstep the next day. (I also remember the short lived afternoon edition of the Globe with the blue masthead and I think at the same time, John Sewell as City editor.

    While I am sure he did not originate the concept, John Sewell wrote an excellent article about the difference between a “transit” system and commuter service. In his opinion even in those days the TTC was trending towards the latter. At the same time, the TTC abandoned “comfy” seats and configured new buses with more sideways (cattle car) seats. There were no forward facing seats behind the rear door – except of course at the very back.

    Steve: I wondered if anyone would remember the “bulldog” edition of the Globe and its specially-coloured boxes.


  15. Wonderland did the Ex in. When Wonderland opened in 1981, attendance at the CNE dropped from 3M to 2M. Before Wonderland, everyone went to the Ex — it was a yearly ritual, and the Bathurst cars used to run at 60-90 second headways to handle the crowds. The 521s were nowhere near as heavily patronized.

    It’s also interesting to note that the Ex used to pull in 3M visitors in the 60s/70s and it wasn’t even open on Sundays until 1968. Nowadays, Wonderland pulls in 3M visitors in an entire season, vs. the 3 weeks the Ex was open. People need to remember that back then, there really wasn’t all that much to do in Toronto, so we all went to the CNE. In 1968, we were just like Buffalo.


  16. Steve:

    I recall seeing, at King and Bathurst, (probably) a TTC employee with a large switch iron setting the NB points for the King cars and the Bathurst cars.

    My father (we’re about the same age, Steve) says that when his mother took him to the Ex, the midway just seemed to be a small alley off the main road and his mother would say, “That’s just the midway; you don’t want to go there.” and he never did. Later he wondered what happened that you couldn’t walk across the grounds without pushing through it.

    Steve: I worked for a few summers on the midway repairing pinball machines in an arcade down near the back end of the Flyer. All craziness and fairground noise and cotton candy, but lots of fun and hordes of people.


  17. Hi Steve, Great photos.

    I grew up at Dufferin and St.Clair and the CNE was always a part of my life, either going to it or being employed there. My earliest memory is one of taking the Bathurst car from the old St. Clair/Vaughan loop! Back then, if my memory is correct, the Kingston Road car used to come across Queen from Bingham to Dufferin down to the loop. I can still recall (I think it was 1971) getting off the Dufferin bus one stop early one day (Thorburn Avenue because of an extremely crowded bus) to go to work at the old Jumbo room at the CNE. As I walked by one house, I glanced into the yard and saw an old professional wrestler named “Sweet Daddy” Siki. He was working out with his weights there in his yard. That’s just some of my memories that were open with these photos.


    Steve: I’m sorry not to have any photos of the Kingston Road Exhibition service, but as I didn’t start photographing in any quantity until 1967, they had already stopped running.


  18. M. Briganti sayd,

    “Wonderland did the Ex in. When Wonderland opened in 1981, attendance at the CNE dropped from 3M to 2M.”

    That never surprised me. I recall the start of grade six (1975 for me) the discussions with classmates about how great the Ex was. I don’t recall a single other person who even knew there were grounds outside of the midway. Of course they didn’t represent everyone who went to the Ex, but looking at the attendance numbers after Wonderland opened, they seemed to have represented a good third of the attendance.

    Steve: The Midway was also a draw parents could use to get their kids to the Ex with the hope of, maybe, visiting some of the buildings. The days of free samples in the Food building didn’t hurt either.


  19. Separate trade shows also helped reduce The Ex’s attendance. Remember the Avtomotive Building when there really were automobiles in the building? Arts & Crafts were held in the Arts & Crafts building, before Medieval Times took it over. The province of Ontario had its own exhibits in what is now the Liberty Grand. And why is “Muzik” now in the Horticultural Building? Non-CNE venues?


  20. Steve,

    Hope that you don’t mind me mentioning this but, in the midst of all of this nostalgia, I thought that it might be worth noting that there are a few producers of TTC PCC cars out there in the model railroading world. I don’t have a commercial interest in any of these companies. They make great collectibles, even if you’d just like a display piece versus something to play with.

    George’s Trains often has something in stock, in addition to Modeltrainstuff, and, finally, IHP Hobby which is soliciting interest for a potential run of HO-scale pre-war, air-electric cars.


  21. Was a young traffic cop out of Strachan Ave in the 60/70s. Instructions were to give the TTC all the assistance we could going eastbound on Fleet. At day’s end those PCC cars were packed to inhumane levels. Then of course the odd out-of-towner or inebriated driver going westbound would swing left into the Loop, inevitably on a major event day and throw the whole operation into lockdown. Also the days when the Argos brought 55,000 to Exhibition Stadium on a Sunday Afternoon. The exit of three lanes of traffic east out onto the Lakeshore was a thing of beauty.


  22. Hi Steve,

    I live at King and Spencer right now, and a friend sent me your blog just because we like looking at old Toronto. Funny to see my apartment from way back then. I wish it was still like that, not as many drug addicts in the pics on your blog. If you wanted to do a then and now photo, I’d be happy to take a picture and email it to you.

    I also sent your blog to my landlords who I know will get a kick out if it. They used to own the IGA.


  23. Nice pictures. I’m surprised nobody’s commented on the one by Massey Ferguson with the motorcycle rider who isn’t wearing a helmet since that’s a very rare sight in Ontario for a long time. Also, the parking lot between the Royal Alexandra Theatre and the next building east is only now being developed with a condo.

    I remember getting CNE tickets at school which was good news because it meant that summer was close and the school year was winding down but I only actually went to the CNE a couple of times when the neighbours took me and this would’ve been when the old loop was in service and ALRVs were new. I haven’t been back since then except for a couple days of work at the bandshell about 10 years ago.

    Are there any remnants left of the concrete that was poured for the maglev ICTS line before construction on that was cancelled? I don’t know where or what to look for at the CNE grounds, if there’s anything left at all.

    Steve: The only footings that were poured for the ICTS line were a bit north of the Princes Gate (where there would have been a station) and along the route now occupied by Exhibition Loop. I may excavate my ICTS files and do an article on that whole debacle sometime.


  24. I understand completely about your not having time to build a then and now gallery but seeing how fat to the left each picture is on this page, I thought that, if at all possible, you could just add a picture from the present-day era right next to each picture you already have posted. I’m sorry to keep looking like I’m pushing something too much but I just can’t help myself in my love of then and now contrasts.


  25. A maglev ICTS line to the Ex? Really? I don’t recall ever hearing about that, unless it’s part of the GO-ALRT project – but that wasn’t maglev.

    Steve: The original ICTS was going to be a Maglev loop around the CNE serving Ontario Place, Princes’ Gates, the agricultural buildings and GO to the north, and the Dufferin gate. The whole project ran aground, so to speak, when the German government pulled funding from the developer, Krauss-Maffei, and the UTDC had to find something else to justify its existence. For a time, they turned to streetcars, but ICTS was reborn with wheel-on-rail suspension as the provincial answer to transit’s missing link. They didn’t sell much of either technology.


  26. As I remember it, the major permanent effect of the maglev project was cutting down a large number of mature trees on the Ex grounds.

    Steve: Yes, they were near the Princes’ Gates and they were cut down for the station that was never built.


  27. Hi Steve:-

    Thanx for the memories once again. Your pix of the East end CNE loop brought back some great reminiscences. The cars lined up for the late night exodus from the Ex is a vivid recall.

    I had worked as a Summer Student Labourer on the car tracks in 1974 & 1975 helping build hundreds of yards of thunder track, most notably on Dundas E and from Leslie to Woodbine on Queen. We would replace the track while the cars were running. Holding them while the contractor took out just a couple more scoops of setts and rubble, then frantically throw in the odd tie bar to hold the gauge, a few ties or blocks under the rails and then quick shimming to support the weight of the PCCs. The other part of the gang would spike in the new, untreated ties under the new 104 pound girder rail that the night crew replaced with the use of a speed swing and one of the flat cars, either W-1 or W-3.

    Then the newly relaid track would be leveled, properly gauged and lined. We tamped it all with fine stone under the ties. Then when this was all done the track was concreted in by the road contractor. Memory says it was in three pours. Up to level with the top of the ties. up to the level of the tie rods and then the finish pour to road and rail level.

    As a nice reward for services rendered, some of us students were given the plum job of looking after the CNE loops. My assignment was an afternoon shift at the East end loop, 2 to 10. It was my responsibility to keep the crew building clean and tidy. Empty the garbage there and on the platform. Sweep up any refuse blown or tossed in around the platforms and loop, grease the curve, sweep the switches and also attend to the out of town bus area east of the Marine Museum. This allowed me free admission to the grounds and the food building was invariably my supper destination.

    The year that I did this, Ontario Rail Association had their 136 on display just east of the crew building and one Friday night it was fired up and kept hot all day Saturday. Knowing a number of the guys, I was allowed to blow the whistle.

    Great memories.

    Yours Dennis


  28. Great memories of the past.

    I just learned that GO will be offering special train trips to/from the Ex from September 1-3 on the Milton, Kitchener & Bradford lines. I believe that Stouffville is out because of track work.

    The trains will stop at Union first, then reverse and travel to Exhibition.

    This will be an interesting sight to see. I suppose that GO will be encouraging people to take the first train from Exhibition to Union or Union to Exhibition to avoid congestion at both terminals. I wonder how many people will take advantage of free rides for short (to Union) or longer distances.

    Cheers, Moaz


  29. Great pictures Steve. So full of memories.

    Is it true that in return for funding from Metro for the Bloor/Danforth subway the TTC was required to cut off any streetcar operation north of Bloor with the exception of St. Clair? I was told that years ago but never heard it confirmed. Whether or not there was a quid pro quo the cuts certainly were made.

    Steve: I’m unaware of any specific requirement for this. However, you must remember that when the BD line opened, it was already TTC policy to gradually abandon the streetcar network. Not much was lost north of Bloor anyhow.

    Also, the travel patterns were expected to change markedly with the new line. An artificial break on Bathurst at St. Clair didn’t make sense. West end passengers on Harbord were expected to reorient themselves to north-south travel. Dundas west lasted a few years until it became the Junction trolleybus route. The St. Clair rush hour branch to Avon Loop became redundant because riders were expected to prefer a trip straight south to the subway.


  30. Steve, I came across your site by accident and saw some of your photos of the street cars gliding through the Junction and you mentioned how the “Corner Fina Gas stations are long gone”.

    That particular station in the junction was my father’s. I remember going on a Saturday (when I was 9 or 10) to help him by pumping gas for $5 a day. I always washed the customers’ window and checked their oil. I remember the smell of Varsol based hand cleaner and gasoline and those are scents that remind me of my youth. The thing I wanted most was my own pair of coveralls so I could look just like him.

    Now I am 44 and my dad’s old service station is a car wash and the days of a full service gas station are gone. Now I pump my own gas, collect imaginary air miles and pay at the pump. No one to wish me a good afternoon or thank me and ask me to come again. I was so happy to see that pic and if just for a moment I could smell that gas, and the hand cleaner, and I was 10 again.


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